Honours & Awards Celebration 2016
Barbara Fingerote's Speech from the 2016 Honours and Awards Celebration
Thank you. Thank you, Barbara Gordon. I am especially thrilled that it is you who recommended me for this honour. You are truly one of our most gifted and talented actors and a wonderful, kind, generous person - extraordinary in every way. It has been a privilege to know you and to have been able to experience your work over the years. I hope to be able to continue to do so for many, many more.
Thank you also to those who supported Barbara's recommendation and to the Committee for selecting me. Also thank you to everyone in the theatre community. You give your all to us every day and make a difference with everything you do.
When I first received Allan's letter advising me of my selection, I had a gazillion overwhelming reactions all at once. I remembered the first time I attended the theatre, and although it probably doesn't really matter how accurate my memory is, it gave me the opportunity to reconnect with Camilla Holland, one of the many theatre people I have had the pleasure of watching blossom through the years, now General Manager at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre. She and three of her amazing staff were able to confirm that it was indeed Cinderella with Gordon Pinsent which I had seen so many years ago.
Within the same year or so, prior to the run of that show, I had decided I wanted to be a librarian. Years later at Western I wrote my Masters thesis in Library Science on performing arts libraries. I remember coming to Toronto to meet with the Librarians in the Theatre Library at Metro Reference as part of my research. I also remember they suggested I see a play at the Royal Alex whilst I was here. I was sold a ticket for a seat in the second row of the second balcony. The actors were tiny blurs and I learned I had vertigo: I spent pretty much the whole show thinking I'd have to get up from that seat at some point. I learned about requesting a front row seat much later and am grateful for many reasons for that. Inevitably, if I were sitting behind someone, that person would have the tallest torso and biggest head, and as a non-violent woman, decapitation is just not a viable option for me.
I have been fortunate to have had a wonderful forty plus years working in various kinds of libraries, the final twenty-five at the law firm, McCarthy Tétrault, but alas librarians in the few existing performing arts libraries loved their jobs so much, there wasn't a place for me in any of them.
My two passions created a nice balance: I had to find the right answer for my clients but there is no right answer to theatre. Now that I have retired, you may perhaps say that I have become unbalanced.
Prior to my attending library school, they were looking for librarians; by the time I was graduated, jobs were scarce. After completing a contract for a Manitoba government department, I ended up finding a job in Toronto. I am rather surprised and definitely pleased that I am still here.
Among the many things I have learned from theatre, an important one has been that -- although I don't wish them on anyone including me -- the bad times help us to appreciate the good times (if nothing else we can compare them and feel grateful to have survived and are thus able to move forward.) This comes from the plays and all theatre people. You always make the good times better and the bad times bearable. Your gifts are ours to keep and use whenever we need them.
It was a kind of eureka moment when I realized that I could do my learning and growing in relative privacy. In theatre, you don't have the same privacy. By definition everything you do is in public. That helped to put lots of things into perspective for me. I appreciate you even more for sharing so much of yourselves. You give of yourselves so completely. Understanding that has helped to give me more confidence to be me and to take calculated risks from time to time, too. My parents were also instrumental in encouraging me to allow me to be me, but you validated that in more ways than I can count.
Please bear with me as I try to articulate a few examples of how all of you together and individually have helped me to survive and perhaps thrive. The collaborative nature of theatre is perhaps its best strength.
It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the debt of gratitude I owe to Stratford, because without what happened there I may not have known the joys of what happens here in Toronto or at the Shaw or The Grand (although I hope I would have come to know you anyway.) I'd like to mention a few of the people who have made a difference. Without them I doubt I'd be here today.
First is the production of Romeo and Juliet in which Colm Feore and Seana McKenna played the title characters. I was going through a particularly difficult time but I had a ticket and something made me attend the show. It had a profound effect on me (you never know who is in your audience and how you will affect us at any given time): I knew how the play would end but as I wanted the characters to survive, I realized that I wanted to live and to try to fulfil whatever purpose I might have. I thank them again for giving me that moment of clarity which continues to sustain me to this day.
I also want to acknowledge Richard March. He was an amazingly multi-talented and wonderful person whose friendship I treasure. He introduced me to many other people and to some degree his acceptance of me probably made me, a civilian, 'ok' to know. That's how I got to know people who work in theatre in various capacities and it is from that experience that I started to see shows here in Toronto to see more of their work. Then I saw other people's work in those shows and wanted to see them and so on and so on. In my heart, I thank him frequently for opening up this new world which has become such an important part of my life.
I was frustrated with the limited show and seat selections provided by theatre tours to the Shaw, but I was determined to see Richard's work when he went there (thank you, Christopher). I mentioned to a neighbour that I could not figure out how else to get there since I don't drive. Her parents had just retired there so she was able to inform me about the bus to St Catharines, flat-rate taxi combination to Niagara-on-the-Lake. I have been blessed to be able to attend outstanding shows and to meet wonderful people there ever since.
Finding out that not-for-profit theatres in Toronto needed volunteers was one of the most significant pieces of information I have ever learned. I thank Duncan McIntosh, then Artistic Director for Theatre Plus Toronto, for opening that door, and everyone else through the years who has allowed me to continue to participate in my small way. I am still not sure that I have found my whole purpose, but surely this has been a good start? I am more grateful than you'll ever know for these opportunities to give back and show my support.
It was at Theatre Plus Toronto where I met Barbara Gordon and the other members of that remarkable company. I was able to see first-hand how collaborative theatre is.
When one of our fellow, original volunteers, Marie Holowaty, was hired as a house manager at the St Lawrence Centre, I also learned that people who work in the theatre don't always get to see the variety of shows that civilians like me do (although I am impressed at how supportive you are of each other given that your work schedules frequently collide.)
And it was at a Theatre Plus Toronto show where I met Scott Sunderland, then house manager at Tarragon, and learned about volunteer opportunities there. I continue to volunteer there and have been privileged to volunteer at a variety of other theatres over the years.
After all of these years of seeing shows, I have come to realize that I don't have to â€˜like' something to appreciate that it has been done well. In fact, I am not sure how to define â€˜like'. I rather doubt you want everyone attending your shows to have the same reaction, or you'd need just one person to attend, and what's the fun in that? What I do expect is that you will do the best you can at that given moment, just as I expect of myself. I come open to the possibilities. I like to be challenged. I appreciate your taking calculated risks and learning from them. Often we can learn more from what doesn't work than what does and that makes us better. And who's to say that a negative reaction doesn't mean you've hit a nerve?
I do like my live theatre live and find body microphones anathema. I like to make a connection with the characters and often amplification creates a barrier to that. If you want to use a microphone, I'd rather you be honest about it. Don't hide it and pretend it is not there. And poor diction amplified is just louder garble. I think you can make theatre for the twenty-first century that is true to theatre without its trying to be film or television or internet. They do what they do well. Theatre does what it does well. Have confidence in yourselves and your abilities to find a way to make meaningful theatre without losing its heart. Allow us and future generations to experience it in all of its glory.
I challenge you to engage young people and to help them to recognize that theatre can be a vital part of their lives. Please make it self-evident that theatre is the place they want to be, reflects their lives, their hopes, their dreams. With initiatives which highlight our connections, our similarities, and our differences, use theatre's traditions, uniqueness, and your creativity to speak to the future so that you may continue to keep the faithful and to attract new audiences. Be our conscience and our guide. Be adventurous. Keep asking questions. Make us think and question. Make us feel, hope, and understand each other better. Keep us honest. Inspire and provoke us. Bring us peace and harmony.
After all of these years I have kind of synthesized my thoughts about what I believe are some of the basics from which all else flows: you need talented, well-trained individuals; a venue with appropriate size and acoustics; and an audience who will listen actively; expect an audience to have two I's: intelligence and imagination; you want everyone involved with a show to give their all and be their best, and that includes those of us in the audience.
Theatre is as important as breathing or eating or sleeping. It enables us to appreciate each other, to learn from each other, to expand our critical and analytical thinking skills (maybe that's why it may be difficult to obtain government funding?), to live fuller, more meaningful lives, to be human in every way. It is a magical universe.
I have a gazillion other thoughts I want to share with you, but I'll end with the promise to you that I will do my utmost to live up to your expectations of me. Thank you again for this honour and for the opportunity to share some of my thoughts with you.